Pictish Symbols – looking for a historic source
Wondering if the Pictish Symbols could be some form of structured language led the author, many times, to the British Museum, London looking at tablets, monuments and cylinder seals with pictographs developing into cuneiform. This early form of recording information (numbers and words) can be seen on carved stone panels from the Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Neneveh.
A clear example of sculpture, art and writing coalescing.
Although the Pictish Stones have the sculpture and art components the interpretation of the Symbols into decipherable writing was not apparent – not least due to a lack of repetitive positioning. Carvings on Assyrian panels prompted the thought that understanding the Symbols could be in interpreting the “shapes” individually and that a language was not being represented.
So the next line of investigation was just that – shapes. From gods carrying buckets, to the mythical creature depicted on the Ishtar Gate at Babylon (mushhushshu or sirrush), to a silver plate with balloon shaped objects behind the rider of a horse from Sasanian times, to the art of the Steppes, to collections in the Hermitage – to name just a few.
Some vague prospects emerged for the Pictish Beast (mushhushshu), the Mirror (Sasanian “balloon” on a plate in the British Museum) and Crescent (tamga style emblems) but no other correlation.
Nothing was quite like the shapes on the Symbol Stones until some of the carved images on the large polished stones from Sippar, Mesopotamia (known as kudurrus) were seen to have some similarities such as crescent, bull-like figures, fantastic beasts etc. These kudurrus, erected between the 16th and 12th century BCE, recorded, for example, land transactions and seemingly acted as boundary markers.
This prompted the question – could this perhaps reinforce one of the theories for Pictish Symbol Stones? That is, boundary markers. However, the only Stone that does have the kudurru style is Logie Elphinstone 2.
Alongside is a Kudurru, Babylonian boundary stone. Author’s picture courtesy of the British Museum.
The time period covered by the above investigations was between roughly 4000 and 800 BCE so investigating Eastern religions of the time, such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism, seemed appropriate.
Further research pointed towards the first version of the Mysteries of Mithras which was modified to become Roman Mithraism around the first century CE.
Patterns apparent in a Mithras relief carving
A chance visit to the Museum of London and its collection of statuary from the third century CE Walbrook Mithraeum (the temple where the Mysteries of Mithras were practiced) was the first time the author saw an example of the Tauroctony and its embellishments. The Tauroctony is the real or symbolic slaying of the bull by Mithras – a standard feature of a Mithraeum. This example is full of associated iconography such as a dog, serpent and scorpion with the central scene surrounded by a broad circle enclosing the signs of the Zodiac.
Mithras is accompanied by his supporters (to his right and left) – the torchbearers, Cautes and Cautopates. Cautes holds his torch up representing sunrise and the spring equinox. Cautopates holds his torch down representing sunset and the autumn equinox. Deeper investigation into the Mysteries of Mithras shows these torchbearers represent a spiritual meaning – a significant aspect being the travel of the soul on birth and at death.
Walbrook Tauroctony, London – author’s picture courtesy of the Museum of London.
Extensive reading of texts and websites regarding Mithraism – both the original, Persian, and the Roman version – surfaced spiritual aspects of the belief and an understanding of the physical and symbolic construction of Mithraea or temples.
The “light bulb moment”
Sketching the shapes of the Pictish Symbol known as the “Z-Rod and Double Disc” the author could see how the horizontal lines of the so-called Z could be the torches of Cautes and Cautopates with the angled line perhaps being a link to Mithras.
A Mithraic belief is that the soul on death travels from Earth, via the Planets to the Celestial Sphere – the Discs typically have a central dot (or very small circle) then two concentric circles. An initial thought was that these circles might represent the elements of the universe – hence the shape alongside which was later found to be the general pattern for the Z-Rod & Double Disc.
Just as carvings on the Rosetta Stone provided the key to decoding Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Mithras roundel from the London Mithraeum provided the key to decoding the Symbols on the Pictish Stones – the “light bulb moment”.
Further delving into the detail of the Roman version of Mithraism enabled several other Symbols to be readily interpreted in a Mithraic context.
With the travel of the soul on birth and death it was apparent that the V of the V-Rod could be interpreted as two directional arrows and the Crescent as a representation of the view to heaven.
Looking at Mithraic statuary in the Great North Museum in Newcastle it was fairly straightforward to see that the birth of Mithras from the rock can be recognised in the Mirror Case Symbol.
This was an encouraging start – the individual shapes of the Symbols did contain a coding.
Detailed research into the origins of writing, looking at and contemplating shapes and researching Mithraism coupled with seeing the Mithraic statuary in the Museum of London was rewarded – it led to the realisation that there is indeed a Pictish Symbol / Mithras connection. A working title of “Pictish-Mithraism” seemed appropriate – later to be the name of the overall discovery. This is why the visit to the Museum of London was the “light bulb moment”.
This tri-fold pamphlet records the discovery made in the Museum of London and subsequent initial decodes for Pictish Symbols.
Since making the connection between carvings on the Mithras marble roundel and Pictish Symbols, the foundations of the London Mithraeum were in 2017 placed in their original location – under the Bloomberg SPACE on Walbrook, London. Visits there prompted drafting this trifold London Temple of Mithras – its link to Decoding Pictish Symbols.